For anyone looking to travel the world, Japan is one of the best destinations to visit as it is home to many cultural, historical, and natural wonders that cannot be seen anywhere else on the planet. Boasting a rich historical culture as far back as the yayoi era until modern day times, Japan is a country where past, present, and future plays a big part in how the landscapes are formed. Japan has been keen on keeping many of its religious, historical, and natural sites in pristine condition in order for them to stand the test of time. The Japanese government does not hold anything back when protecting the treasures that its country contains. This attitude towards putting importance on important cultural locations have been applauded by many around the world and is well accept by the Japanese society.
Unesco World Heritage Sites
Upon accepting the invitation into the UNESCO World Convention in 1992, many sites in Japan have since been accepted as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and have many more that are tentatively on the shortlist to becoming one.
Many of the World Heritage Sites in Japan are temples and shrines of historical and cultural importance to the island nation. One good example of this is the Itsukushima Shrine. The Itsukushima Shrine, which experts have estimated to have been built in the 6th century, is most known for the floating torii gate. It is located in the city of Hatsukaichi within the prefecture of Hiroshima. The shrine was erected and is regarded as a national treasure as it is dedicated to the devotion to the three daughters of Susanoo-Mikoto. Susanoo-Mikoto is known in the Shinto religion as the god of sea and storm and is brother to Amaterasu, goddess of the sun. The purity of the shrine has been kept sacred throughout history and has long been kept from the public view. It was said that commoners of ancient Japan were not to set foot on shrine grounds to keep the purity of its lands. This practice has been so important that since the year 1878, no deaths or births have been allowed within earshot of the temple grounds. To this day, residents of the area must travel to the mainland of Japan to give birth. This rule also applies to the terminally ill as well as the elderly, to ensure that they pass on far away from the temple property. However, in recent times pilgrimages have been allowed into the shrine through the building of a pier over the water.
Nikko is home to the most number of shrines that have been awarded as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Totalling a number of 103 buildings, the Nikko region is of cultural and religious importance to the Japanese people. All of the important buildings of the area belong to three temples.
The Futurasan Shrine, opened to the general public since 1973, is home to many of the national treasures of Japan. This shrine was erected in the year 726 by Shodo Shonin and has since been one of the centers of the Shinto religion in the area.
The Nikko Tosho-gu is the second temple that makes up the Shrines and Temples of Nikko World Heritage Site. Initially built in 1617, Nikko Tosho-gu was dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, father to the current Shogun of Japan. Five structures of the temple are recognized as National Treasures of Japan, the most famous of which is the Yomeimon gate. The Yomeimon gate is also known as the higurashi-no-mon which means that one could start looking at it from sunrise up until the sunset and one would not tire from looking at it. This is because the gate is decorated with many wondrous and extravagant carvings.
The last of the three temples is the Buddhist temple of Rinno-ji. The Rinno-ji is a giant complex filled with numerous smaller Buddhist temples. This enormous complex started its development in the year 766 by a buddhist monk named Shodo. Located in the deep mountains of the Nikko region, this temple is coveted by monks as a site for solitude and quiet meditation.
Another famous world heritage site would have to be Shirakawa-go. Shirakawa-go was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 1995 due to the well preserved traditional farmhouses. These farm houses, called gassho-zukuri, have been around for centuries. The translation of gassho-zukuri is “constructed like hands in a prayer,” due to the resemblance of the thatched roofing of the houses to the hands of buddhist monks in prayer. The architectural style present in the area results from many years of trial and error to produce a style of building that produces adequate protection from the elements, most notably the heavy snow in the winter season. In fact the area experiences the heaviest snowfall within the country. It is also interesting to note that the roofs of these farm houses are built without the use of nails and the large space it provides is often used for the cultivation of silkworms. The beauty of Shirakawa-go is seen in the simplicity of the village and its adherence to living along side nature and how the lives of the locals are shaped by the natural landscape as opposed to changing it to suit their needs.
Edo Castle Ruins and the famous Sakurada Gate
Chiyoda-jo or better known as Edo-jo or Edo Castle, is located in Edo, Toshima District Musashi Province, which is now called Chiyoda, Tokyo. It is a flatland palace, built in 1457 by Ota Dokan, a well-known poet built for Tokugawa Iemitsu. It was the home castle for the Tokugawa Shogunate. A building that symbolizes the prestige of successive shoguns and the center of political power during the 260 years of isolation of Japan. Within the castle ground lies the historically important Sakurada Gate. This gate was the location for the Sakuradamon Incident in the year 1860. The Sakuradamon Incident refers to the assassination of Ii Naosuke, the Japanese Chief Minister of the time. The assassination was carried out by 17 Mito ronins just as Ii Naosuke was approaching the Sakurada Gate. This was brought about by the Naosuke’s forcing of the retirement of many Japanese officials in the battle for the successor of the Shogunate.
The Edo Castle grounds is now part of the Tokyo Imperial Palace and is free for public viewing but is closed on Mondays and Fridays except on the Holidays. It is also closed on the Emperor’s birthday which is celebrated on the 28th of December, till the third of January.
Fuji-san, or Mount Fuji
The highest peak in Japan, as high as 3776 metres above sea level with a nearly perfect cone shape. Fuji san is an active volcano located in the border of Yamanashi and Shizouka Prefecture.
It is one of the three sacred mountains of Japan, and has been a pilgrimage site for centuries. Attracting not only foreign tourist, but locals also. It has been a subject of many poems and artworks, most well know in the art works of Edo Period artist Hiroshige (36 views of mount fuji and 100 views of mount fuji) and Utagawa Hiroshige (36 views of mount fuji)
It is a Special place of Scenic Beauty and a World Heritage List for Cultural site in Jun 22, 2013
It can be seen on clear days from Tokyo and Yokohama. Also on train rides from Osaka to Tokyo (best view is at shin Fuji Station). Apparently visibility is a much better during cooler seasons rather than summer.
Another great view of mt fuji can be seen in hakone, an national park 100km away from tokyo well known for hot springs.
During the months of July and August, Mt. Fuji is open for hikes, the peak season which is Obon Week, the mid week of August, which we suggest people should avoid to fully be immersed in the action of hiking mt fuji. Difficulty level is not really hard, but may encounter some steep and rocky parts. Other activities and places that people could go to in Mt. Fuji is Fujiten Snow resort at the northern base of mount Fuji located in Fujigoko or Fuji Five Lakes. Snow Town Yeti is another ski resort found at the southern base of mount fuji, which utilizes man made snow during late october.
The town of Fujinomiya is a town located in the southern base which is also a nice place to experience Japan outside big cities. The way to this town is very convenient as several direct buses serve multiple trips, at different hours of the day, to the town. Typically round trip tickets would cost somewhere around 3000 yen.
Battleship Island (Hashima Island)
Hashima Island, located some 20 kilometers from Nagasaki Port, served as a coal mine that was in use from the late 1800’s up to 1974. There was a time when more than 5000 residents called the island home, but since the closing of the mine, has been reduced to something of a deserted island tourist destination. Coal was discovered on the island by the feudal lord of Saga which prompted the conversion of the island into a mining town. The island was also purchased by the Mitsubishi Corporation which prompted further development and industrial mining on site. Many workers relocated to live on the island due to its small size (480 meters long by 150 meters wide), the island had the highest population density in history. To accommodate for the boost in the island populace, many tall buildings were erected thus giving the island the image of a battleship. Locally the island is called gunkanjima, which translates to battleship island.
In the year 1974, the coal mine was closed down and the residents were forced to move out of the island leaving no one to care for the structures located within. Due to exposures to many typhoons and hurricanes, every building on the island had deteriorated to give the scary and haunted look that many recognize now. Many urban legends have also arisen about this island, some even of ghosts that walk around the buildings at night. The look of despair and eeriness that the island had gave rise to many sightseeing boat tours that would allow tourists a closer look on the island. Due the structural integrity of the island’s buildings not being tested, Hashima Island had long been closed to the public, but in recent years a boat dock was constructed and many routes have been deemed safe for tourists to go on. The tour programme on the island consists of an interesting depiction of the history of the island and the stories of the people that once lived there.
Yakushima Island for the Nature Lovers
Yakushima is a subtropical island in the Kagoshima prefecture in the southern island of Kyushu Japan. One of Japan’s natural wonders, the island inspired the forest setting of Hayao Miyazaki’s film, Princess Mononoke. It is not well known among outside of Japan but is most popular with local tourists. Well-known for its wildlife, Cedar forests, seasonal logger head turtle nesting ground (Nagata Hinaka-Hama), the Arakawa trail (Mount Miyanoura), the Homonsugi (the largest tree found in Japan), Yakuzuki museum, and the Oko-no-taki waterfall.
The island is said to contain Japan’s oldest living trees, called the Yakuzuki. The word, which is a combination of two Japanese words “Yakushima” and “Sugi” (Japanese word for Cedar). The trees are said to have been growing in these forests for around 7000 years. However, it is not a virgin forest as during the Edo period some parts of this forest was used as a site for logging. Some parts of the island have been declared as a National Park, while some were declared as a Natural World Heritage Site in 1993. In the 1980’s UNESCO declared some areas as Man and the Biosphere Reserve. It is one of Japan’s most rain-soaked places which contributed to the steady and consistent growth of the cedar trees. Locals even have a saying that it rains 35 days in month on the island.
So Japan, a country with a civilization that dates back as old as circa 1400 BC, filled history, culture and heritage, that is apparent in every destination and tourist site, is said to be one of the best destinations in the world to visit. From the natural wonders of Mount Fuji and Yakushima, to the historical significance of Edo Castle, any tourist will be left in awe of the sights that Japan has to offer. For anyone who has been thinking of visiting Japan, now is the best time to do so as now more than ever, the country is opening its doors for more and more to view every great site that it has to offer. No matter which airport in Japan one lands in, every region in the country has so much to offer that will leave you breathless.